January 1, 2014
December 25th marked four months for me here in South Korea. This seems like such a long time to go by without writing a journal, but every day I am more busy here than I could have imagined. And I love it.
When I first arrived in this new country, I was nervous. The whole flight I was unable to sleep, and I agonized over how my arrival would go. As I expected, it was nothing like I imagined. I saw my family with their poster: my host mom, my aunt, and my cousin. They greeted me, and we walked out into the summer humidity for the first time. I had thought that I'd be escaping it, leaving from Florida. Oh, how wrong I was. Ironically, my first meal in Korea was Chinese food for dinner. It was chicken though, and there's nothing odd about eating chicken in this country-- the fried chicken here is heavenly. But I'm getting off track. On our way to the Chinese restaurant, our ride there was perilous. In this case, I think the stereotypes are true-- Korean driving is terrifying. I'm not sure how we didn't crash. Maybe Korean drivers are so bad that they're good? The kind of questions that keep me awake at night. It's almost kind of amazing. In any c ase, we survived the ride and made it to the apartment building. I vaguely remember thinking about how tall it was as we walked inside. All I wanted to do at the time was sleep, but I called my parents at my host mother's insistence, and then went straight to bed. Jet lag made it so that I was not at all rested the next morning, when I woke up bright and early for the inbound orientation. As the last inbound to arrive, we began sightseeing immediately. The amount of walking we did in those first few days was hell to me. Little did I know just how much walking I'd be doing in the future.
On September 1st, I started school. I was so excited. We've all heard the rumors about how exchange students are treated in Asia. I can't say I was disappointed. As I walked to my class, I could feel everyone's eyes piercing my being. I arrived in my class, introduced myself and then sat down as quickly as I could. As soon as I let my hair down from it's ponytail, however, the screams began. Everyone crowded around me and began touching my hair. I'm not going to lie, it was actually pretty nice. Korean school is so, so different that American school. In Korean schools, boys and girls are almost always in separate classes. Boys and girls are for the most part, very shy around each other here. The girls always put on makeup before lunch, when they know they'll see the boys. I think it's pretty cute. Korean school also lasts much longer. It begins at 8:00 in the morning and ends somewhere around 9:00 at night. After that, most students go to ha kwon, which is pretty much school after school. They study for hours and hours every day. They are very dedicated to their schoolwork and nothing is more serious than tests. Some students may arrive home as late as 1:00 in the morning. Because I leave early for Korean class, I am somewhat relieved I don't have to experience this intense schooling. During these past months, I've come to really love school; the best part about it though, is probably my classmates. Sometimes I see other exchange students not being treated well by their classmates, and I feel so, so fortunate that my classmates are so good to me. I never feel lonely in my class, because someone is always there to talk to me. I would say I already have a few close friends. Each of them is so unique in their own way, and I am proud to say I know all of their names now! When I first arrived, people were constantly telling me their names-- when one person said their name, I would try to remember, but then I would hear another name and forget the first one immediately. The struggle was real. The longer I'm here, though, the easier it becomes, I think. And not just for remembering names, but for other things too. The language, for example, and good lord, the public transportation.
My daily schedule is kind of hectic, and almost every day is a different schedule. I wake up at 6:30 and get ready for school. I have to be done with breakfast at 6:45 and out the door by 6:50 to catch the subway at 7:00. Everything is very precise like this. I arrive in Sajik, where my school is, at about 7:30. From there, I meet with another exchange student who goes to the same school, and we walk to the bus stop. We take the bus to school and then walk up the hill, up the steps to the school entrance, and then I walk up to the third story, where class 1-8 is. I attend classes with the other students until after lunch, when I leave for Korean class(which I have Monday, Thursday, and Friday. Tuesday and Wednesday are Taekwondo.) I take the bus to the other bus stop, and then take that bus to Yeonsan. I study Korean from 3:30 to 6:30, and Taekwondo goes from 5:00 to 7:00. Afterwards, I take the bus to the subway station, then the subway to my house in Hwamyeong. I arrive hom e at about 8:30, I have dinner, maybe take a shower, prepare my things for the next day, and then go to sleep. That is an average weekday. On the weekends I'm left to my own devices, shopping in Seomyeon or Deokcheon, or maybe Shinsegae, the world's biggest department store. Busan is a very compact city, as Korea is a very compact country. There is so much in such a small place, and the transportation here makes traveling the simplest thing. At first, I would never travel on the subway alone, and always insist on my host mother coming with me wherever I was going. Now, I am the Master of the Subway. I've realized it is so easy to figure out if you take the time, no matter where you are going. In Florida, there were no subways like there are here, and I almost never took the bus. I feel so fortunate to be able to explore this city with the ease of the transportation here.
While I've been in Korea, I've really come to love it, to the point where I can't picture myself never coming back here. In fact, I've been thinking a lot about going to university here. I never thought that this country would impact me so much. When I was first picking my five country choices in my application for Rotary, my reason for picking South Korea was not much more than because I liked the culture. Now, I like it for so many other reasons. The language, the food, the people, the music, the shopping districts, the transportation, the mountains.... the list goes on. It means more and more to me with each passing day, and I can't even imagine my life had I not discovered Rotary Youth Exchange. I wanted to say thank you to my sponsor club, the Fort Myers Rotary Club, for everything you do and have done for me. And thank you, Rotary, for making such a program as Rotary Youth Exchange exist. I know me and so many others feel the same way.